Monday 05 Jun 2023
By /
main news image

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on February 27, 2023 - March 5, 2023

Feminism, as defined by Bell Hooks in her book Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, refers to a movement that purports to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression. While the earlier waves of feminism focused on the aim to liberate women from the dependence on manly figures and crushed the belief that women are secondary in social status, the modern feminists, however, proposed a different set of views by redefining the term “feminism” in a way that it is not exclusive to persons who are biologically identified as a woman, but rather, inclusive even of those who identify themselves as feminine and behave in a feminine manner. With this new conceptualisation, feminists globally demand equal treatment within the political, economic, social and religious spheres. For them, women will be empowered if they have the liberty to make choices for themselves, irrelevant of the fact that such choices are highly criticised by both religion and society at large.

Before we delve further into the discussion, a refutation needs to be made concerning the misleading notion brought by the feminists that the shariah interpretations that apply today are inaccurate and biased towards men since they were mainly dominated by male scholars. We believe that this assumption is rooted in the ignorance of the feminists themselves towards the existence of an abundance of analyses and works throughout the past centuries done by numerous women Muslim scholars who have dedicated their lives to studying and teaching this religion. As a matter of fact, Dr Akram Nadwi, an Indian scholar who is dean of the Cambridge Islamic College, had gathered the biographies of 8,000 women scholars in the Islamic tradition under his work entitled Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam. A few examples of prominent women Muslim scholars would include the mother of the believers, Saidatina Aisyah R A, who has narrated thousands of hadeeth; Bintu al-Muhamili, one of the well-versed scholars in Islamic fiqh rulings; Bintu al-Syati’ and Zaynab al-Ghazali, who had written a number of books and articles pertaining to Quranic exegesis; and Rabi’ah al-Adawiyah, the most often cited authority by Imam Al-Ghazali in his world-renowned book, Ihya Ulumuddin, with regard to the tasawwuf knowledge on purification of oneself.

It is not disputed that there is always room for improvement in the legal implementations of shariah rulings, as we do agree that a man-made system will never be free of flaws. However, this so-called equality movement in recent years had courageously objected and offered contrary alternative views on some unequivocal and clear Islamic rulings (Qat’i rulings) that are provided in definite texts in the Quran. Different from the Zanni rulings (legal rulings that come from speculative verses in the Quran), Qat’i rulings are restricted to only one meaning, by which it is not open to different interpretations ever since it was revealed by Allah to his noble Messenger 1,400 years ago. The prohibition of homosexuality, the obligation for women to cover themselves and the rules of inheritance (faraid) are some Islamic rulings that have been furiously debated by feminists on social media platforms. For them, all three of these are incompatible with the principles of women’s rights brought by the feminist ideology, and hence, require a reformation and “contemporary” Islamic interpretations, in line with modern needs.

With all due respect, we wish to emphasise that Quranic definitive rulings need no reformation and “modern” interpretations as they are already perfect the way they are and remain relevant across centuries and civilisations, considering the fact that the rulings were ordained by the ever-living God who has the perfect knowledge of all things. Besides, the sanctity of Quranic rulings is preserved by Allah Himself, as evident in multiple Quranic ayahs such as 2:23, 5:3, 5:48, 6:114, 10:94, 11:1, 15:9, 16:64, 17:88 and 28:86. Equality through the lens of feminism is different from how Islam views it. In ayah 13 of Surah Al-Hujurat, Islam guarantees equality in status for every human being, and the only aspect that distinguishes one from the other is taqwa (consciousness of God). Islam recognises that men and women are created with their own unique respective attributes and strengths, and thus, meant to complement one another to make this world a better place for living, instead of fighting for equal roles in a social setting. Every right given to men in Islam comes with heavy responsibilities. For instance, in the Islamic law of inheritance, men are given a bigger portion than that for women, hence, this was perceived by feminists to be an unfair distribution of wealth towards women in the family.

Nonetheless, according to Dr Baterah Alias in one of her articles, “A Quranic Analysis on the Issue of Gender Equality between Men and Women”, she illuminated that this division of inheritance was due to the responsibilities of the man being the head of his own family (wife and children) and a wali (guardian) for women connected by blood with him (blood sisters, mother, nieces, blood aunts and so on), in which he is in charge of their welfare. Therefore, men are given more so that they can provide better for those who are under their responsibility. Women, on the other hand, don’t have this responsibility towards one another except for their children born out of wedlock, in case they have one. In spite of this, men nowadays tend to abuse their inherited wealth by solely using it for their own benefit due to a lack of understanding with regard to their responsibilities set by the religion; hence, issues of women’s oppression and poverty arise. According to the feminists, the only way to tackle this problem is by giving equal inheritance for both men and women, which is the complete opposite of the faraid law commanded by Allah in the Quran.

On the contrary, we suggest that Muslims address the root cause of this problem first, which is the lack of religious understanding, by mandating men to attend religious courses once per month, in particular, concerning men’s responsibilities in family institutions. In addition to that, stricter regulations can be enforced, such as the newly established policy that enables the court to block the husband’s bank account if he fails to provide alimony for his wife and children. Plus, the legislature might want to consider giving locus standi for one to initiate proceedings before the court if the faraid inheritance had not been used in a way that it supposedly should, such as using it for gambling, buying shares that are non-shariah-compliant and cheating on the existing wife, instead of funding the children’s studies and basic grocery needs. 

Additionally, the obligation for women to cover themselves can be found in the Quran at 24:31 and 33:59. This commandment was revealed to dignify the status of women in Islam, and to distinguish them from women of other religions and those who work in the prostitution industry. As-Sudi while commenting on ayah 59 of Surah Al-Ahzab said that at the material time this ayah was revealed, it was a norm for fasiq men to disturb women at night. However, whenever they encounter women who cover themselves, they would refrain from disturbing them as they would acknowledge that these women are honourable and dignified persons. In Islam, the status of humans is more elevated than that of animals as they were given a sense of shame to clothe themselves. Hence, it is clearly not a form of oppression as was alleged by feminists, but rather, a form of honour.

As a concluding remark, we would like to cite a commentary by Prof Syed Naquib al-Attas in his book, On Justice and the Nature of Men, in which he elucidated that Muslims should neither conceive justice as a product of man’s reason and freedom of choice nor that it originates within the framework of a dichotomous speculative theory that is not definite. According to him, Muslims’ perspective on justice must conform to Divine principles revealed by Allah, because the concept of justice itself originates from one of the names of Allah, Al-’Adl (the Just). We should recognise that the intellectual faculty of humans is limited, in a sense that sometimes, humans are unable to foresee the impact of their conduct or decisions, even towards themselves, in a holistic manner. Thus, a complete reliance and surrender to the “life manual” given by Allah, the All-Knowing, should be observed by Muslims.

Norhanani Musni is reading law at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Dr Nabeel Altabhawi lectures on jurisprudence at the Law Faculty of UKM.

Save by subscribing to us for your print and/or digital copy.

P/S: The Edge is also available on Apple's AppStore and Androids' Google Play.

      Text Size